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The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them Paperback – 17 August 1999
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--The Indianapolis Star "A brilliant, combative, and intensely practical discussion of how our education system got into its current mess and what we must do to pull it out."
--Donna Fowler, American Federation of Teachers "A damning, highly provocative, full-scale assault on today's educational establishment."
From the Back Cover
For over fifty years, American schools have operated under the assumption that challenging children academically is unnatural for them, that teachers do not need to know the subjects they teach, that the learning "process" should be emphasized over the facts taught. All of this is tragically wrong.
Renowned educator and author E. D. Hirsch, Jr., argues that, by disdaining content-based curricula while favoring abstract--and discredited--theories of how a child learns, the ideas uniformly taught by our schools have done terrible harm to America's students. Instead of preparing our children for the highly competitive, information-based economy in which we now live, our schools' practices have severely curtailed their ability, and desire, to learn.
With an introduction that surveys developments in education since the hardcover edition was published, The Schools We Need is a passionate and thoughtful book that will appeal to the millions of people who can't understand why America's schools aren't educating our children.
- ASIN : 0385495242
- Publisher : Anchor Books; 1st Anchor Books ed edition (17 August 1999)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780385495240
- ISBN-13 : 978-0385495240
- Dimensions : 15.49 x 2.03 x 23.62 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 98,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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I was aghast that education programs do not adhere to even nominal academic standards, and that success is governed by mimicry alone. As a trained scientist, and critical thinker - I found myself in a world fueled by ideology that is antithetical to education itself. And instead of being rewarded for plunging the literature and constructing rational arguments for assigned 'journal reflections' - my work was deemed 'unacceptable'. Why? Because I routinely found the dogma we were to regurgitate, had already been trounced as utter empirical failures before.
I did my homework, and sadly - the education professors had not. They had never had a student question their methods before, moreover, in a way that made them look like total idiots. Instead of contending with the logical arguments before them - a circus of power abuse ensued. I was marked as a "problem student" - because that was much easier than actually doing their job of understanding the topics they, uh... profess.
I was baffled that the educationists were so removed from their own field! How is that possible? Surely, at an academic institution, professors would at least be aware of dissenting positions and have *some* way of responding to them! Nope. They could not. They could only hurl wild accusations of being "unsafe" around children instead. That is the cost of disagreement in education. And what naive teacher is willing to take that risk? Basically none. But that is moot, because teachers only nod their head with fervor agreement - no matter what is said - to earn a grade, a degree, and ultimately, a letter of recommendation.
Hirsch does a fantastic job of characterizing the education system and firmly places the blame on education programs that are steeped in ideological mysticism and ignorant to empirical reality. As a scientist, I can only condone adherence to the latter - and as a passionate purveyor of education, I can only condone the latter also. Although I had gathered up thousands of references and thought I would write my own book - I discovered that Hirsch had already done so. And he does so beautifully.
I can't recommend this book enough. It is a reasoned and scholarly treatment of something that every American should be concerned about. Teachers do not read this book - because it is not assigned. Administrators do not read this book, because it is not assigned. Parents do read this book, because they care -- and only through their concerted efforts as concerned citizens and insistence upon educating our children with uniform content standards, can we hope to have educated children and a populace competent in the global arena.
Hirsch's book is written amongst a steady tide of educational thought that has forgotten this most basic insight. Most educators today believe the primary goal of education to be promotion of critical thinking and creative expression at the expense of fact-b ased instruction, which is often decried as 'mindless repitition of facts.' (In my education classes, I often hear it referred to as the 'three R's' - read, remember, regurgitate.')
In this sense, the thesis of Hirsch's book - that critical thinking and creative expression MUST be accompanied by firm, factual understanding - is a very Deweyan idea. And Hirsch makes a good case, both philosophically and scientifically.
The first half of the book is the more philosophical half. First, Hirsch traces the ideological roots of the 'learning as a social, constructivist enterprise' theory. Owing to the work of a handful of theorists in and around the 1930's, the 'learn from the bottom up' approach (facts first, then higher-order reflection) became replaced by a "bottom down" approach that sees learning as more holistic and constructivistic.
Next, Hirsch shows that by most any measure, these ideas have failed - ever since their inception in the '30's - to produce any improvement in the United State's educational situation. More than that, while these 'reforms' flounder in the public schools, those schools that still hold to a fact-based rigorous educational model - private schools and universities - continue to thrive. So, is it any wonder that we might find reason to question whether these reforms have done more harm than good?
But, as Hirsch points out next, not only are these ideas not questioned within the education establishment, they are simply treated as common sense - even in the light of their repeated failure to deliver on their promises.
AS a masters student in Special Education and a first year teacher, this was a pertinent section for me. I can see the dominance of the constructivist model not only in the school where I teach, but permeating every inch of the Graduate School which I attend. We are taught EXCLUSIVELY in the constructivist approach and the more fact-based approach only comes up when we talk about how things used to be (ah...those draconians!).
Finally, we get to the meat of Hirsch's case. The last third of the book presents the data. While most of the alleged data supporting the constructivist approach boils down to philosophy dressed in the language of science, the data supporting the other, more fact-based approach, consists of numerous studies that independently come to the same conclusion - that fact-based, large-group, disciplined instruction, rather than the more free-form, constructivist, small group approach, wins the day more often than not.
Of course, as I have not done any exhaustive reasearch on this subject, I cannot say that there is NO research to support a constructivist approach. But I can attest that many articles in support of constructivism are thinly veiled philosophizing under the guise of sceintific research, the quality of which would be laughed at in any journal with scholarly standards. (Unfortunately, education journals don't seem to have very high publishing standards.)
My only complaint about this book - and it is a big one - is that Hirsch really should have focused more on the scientific case against a wholly constructivist approach.It may be true that the science supports a more fact-based approach, but, if so, he should rebut it more with science than his own philosophy. Otherwise, he is only doing what he alleges others of doing - being a partisan to philosophy rather than data. If the data is as staggering as he suggests, he shold show it rather than relegate it to the last third of his book.
Be that as it may, this book is sorely needed in an educational world that has been trying the same thing over and over (under new names every few years) only to find that it doesn't work. Perhaps we should take a cue from the schools that are working - private schools, universities, and the pulbic schools of other countries. Of course, if we did that, we might have to admit that Hirsch, and Dewey, are right; education is not worth much without factual rigor.
Hirsch provides insight into how we got into this mess and what we need to do to fix the problem. This is a must-read book if you care about your own children and about the future of our country.
I love the premise of this book, and have found a clean, hardcover copy without errors.